How I’m Stopping the Cycle of Feeling Isolated as a Deaf Person

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When I was younger, I made a promise to myself, and I am so glad I am sticking to that promise. I promised myself that when I have my own family, I will no longer accept Deaf isolation by hearing people.

As a child, I had a lot of hearing friends. We had sleepovers, hung out at school and played many different games. It was easy to communicate through gestures since most of our times were spent playing. As we got older, it became harder for me to feel included because not all of them could sign. Teenagers like to sit around and gossip, and I was often lost.

I was told, “It’s nothing.” “You would not understand.” “It’s not important.” “I will tell you later.” “I don’t want to repeat as it’s a long story.” I often received a summarized watered-down answer when I ask what they were talking about. Over time, I gave up on asking and went to another room. It was better to be alone instead of being lonely in a hearing crowd. Our friendships started to fade away. By the time I entered high school, I had more Deaf friends and maybe two hearing friends.

I received the same treatment from teachers, coaches, bosses, co-workers and people I looked up to. They were supposed to care about me, yet they made me feel inferior. It’s not great when you feel like you are not as important as others. I was actually starting to believe I was inferior.

It was not their fault but my own. I did not want to be a hassle. I did not want them to think I was trying to steal the attention. I did not stand up for myself. I did not educate them. I swallowed the hurt and tried to move on.

As I became older, I became tired of feeling like this. I was tired of being forgotten. I was tired of being denied information. I realized I deserve better. I realized I was not alone in this. Nearly all the Deaf people I meet experienced the same problem. I asked them, “What did you do?” They gave me mixed answers. Some avoided the hearing people, and some stood up for themselves and educated their hearing peers. I made a promise right there that someday when I have my own family, I would teach them that Deaf isolation is unacceptable.

Silhouette of person standing on a dock in the mist

Deaf people work hard to fit in a hearing-centric world when it should be our world, too.

I am going to stop the cycle with my own family.

Now, I have a 2-year-old hearing daughter. I want her to view spoken languages and signed languages as equal. Hearing people and Deaf people both deserve the same rights. As her mother, I deserve to know the conversations my daughter is participating in when I am in the same room. I do not want other people to tell my daughter things they are not supposed to. I do not want there to be secrets. I do not want her to learn it is acceptable for other people to disrespect me. I do not want her growing up thinking it is fine for her to do the same to her own mother. I do not want her to follow societal norms and give other Deaf people the same treatment.

So, how am I going to do that? How am I going to stop the cycle?

I want all of the people who know sign language to converse with my daughter in both English and ASL. So simple, yet people act like it is too much work.

I do not demand non-signers (people who do not know how to sign) to know sign language. However, it would be nice if they learn some basic signs. I mean if they are going to be a part of our lives, at least, help us out. People who do not know sign language often do not realize that in all of our conversations, we are working hard to understand everything. Sometimes we misunderstand things. If you are friends with someone who knows a different language, it is always polite to learn some basic words in their language.

Since we communicate in ASL for the majority of time at home, I do not want that to end when we are out in the public or have guests over. That will teach my daughter that ASL is supposed to be left at home and only with her parents, like it is not important. When my daughter starts to have friends over, that will be a different thing. I do not expect the same treatment from children; it is mainly the adults. Children often have their own secret language anyways, hearing or Deaf.

I never want to have the feeling that my immediate family is leaving me out. I don’t want to feel inferior to my daughter because I am Deaf. If you dismiss a Deaf person’s request to sign at the same time you talk to their children, you’re teaching their children that their parents don’t need to be respected. You are teaching their children that hearing people are superior and they are better than their own parents.

Actions speak louder than words.

I am her mother, so I deserve that respect. I deserve to be a part of the equation. I deserve to be involved. I deserve to feel important. I deserve to teach my daughter that Deaf people can be treated the same way as hearing people. If more parents do this small change with their children, it can help to reduce the isolation of Deaf children/adults dramatically and help join both worlds together.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Starbucks Barista Learns Sign Language for Deaf Customer, Gives Him Sweet Note

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One barista’s simple gesture helped a deaf customer feel more understood.

Ibby Piracha, a deaf man who’s a frequent customer at a Starbucks in Leesburg, Virginia, got a surprise when he stopped in on Friday, Feb. 19, according to a post on his Facebook page. Usually, Piracha writes down his order on the Notes app on his phone and then shows it to the cashier. This time, before he could do that, the barista signed to him in American Sign Language (ASL) asking for his drink order. Later, she passed him a note she’d written explaining that she had been learning ASL to better assist customers like him who may be hard of hearing. The note said, “I’ve been learning ASL so you can have the same experience as everyone else.”

 

Oh, I gotta love this place. Starbucks woman cashier, she wrote it to me and she knew I am deaf. I am surprised she…

Posted by Ibby Piracha on Friday, February 19, 2016

 

His Facebook post read:

Oh, I gotta love this place. The Starbucks woman cashier wrote it to me and she knew I am deaf. I am surprised she’s learning sign language because I attend Starbucks three times a week. She asked me, ‘What you want drink?’ in sign language. I am so blessed with her. I think she realized Leesburg, Virginia, has deaf people. Please share this post with everyone. I want hearing people [to] understand about [the] hearing community supporting the deaf community.

“She was saying she looked on YouTube because she had a lot of customers that came in using text,” Piracha told ABC News. “I was very surprised she was willing to learn and it shows she respects deaf people, she’s an inspiration.” 

The manager of the Starbucks confirmed Piracha’s account of the interaction but wouldn’t name the employee. A Starbucks spokeswoman said the company was proud of her actions. 

Laura Friedman, Communications Manager for the Hearing Health Foundation, told The Mighty these kinds of incidents are heartening.

“Communication is a key part of customer service,” Friedman said in an email. “It’s so encouraging to read this story of a cashier making efforts to bridge a communication barrier with her deaf customers.”

This isn’t the first time Starbucks has made an effort to include people from the deaf community. In November, a drive-through Starbucks in St. Augustine, Florida, made headlines for its video monitor that allows deaf customers to order in sign language.

Get more on the story from the video below:

 

h/t HuffPost

Related: What the Starbucks Barista Didn’t Know When She Wrote ‘Smile’ on My Coffee

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Fifth Graders Use Recess to Learn Sign Language for Deaf Classmate

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Rhemy Elsey was born deaf, and though he has hearing aids, the fifth grader primarily uses American Sign language (ASL) and an interpreter to communicate with others. Rhemy’s classmates at Mark Bills Middle School in Peoria, Illinois, wanted to figure out a way to include him in more of their conversations, so they came up with a plan: Learn ASL during recess.

The whole class recites the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in ASL, but about a dozen students took things a step further to form the school’s ASL club, which meets every Wednesday during recess.

“I wanted to be able to talk to Rhemy and I wanted to be able to communicate with him,” classmate Dezyrae Clarke, founder of the club, told local news station WMBD. With a little help from Rhemy and his interpreter, Tammy Arvin, the children are learning more each week, and Rhemy has even given some classmates their own unique sign, or nickname.

“It’s like they want to be like me,” Rhemy told WMBD reporter Alyssa Paldo, in a story published on Central Illinois Proud. “It makes me feel happy.”

Arvin says she’s seen a notable improvement in Rhemy’s ability to talk to his friends.

“It’s stories like Rhemy’s that makes Hearing Health Foundation hopeful that the stigma of having a hearing loss is disappearing,” a spokesperson for the organization told The Mighty. “It’s refreshing to hear these stories about children taking the initiative to learn how to best communicate with their hard of hearing peers – it provides hope for a more inclusive future for all people.”

Check out my story on these awesome 5th graders that are learning sign language–all so that they can communicate with a friend and classmate. I think these children stand to teach us an amazing lesson that we can all take something away from–about kindness and accepting others 🙂 Happy Friday! http://www.centralillinoisproud.com/news/local-news/students-learn-sign-language-for-friend

Posted by Alyssa Paldo on Friday, February 19, 2016

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My Daughter Doesn't Know She Has Deaf Parents

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My daughter Coral doesn’t know she has deaf parents.

Coral is only 2 years old. She knows she has parents just like everybody else, but she has no idea how we differ from many parents. Having deaf parents is normal for her. She is hearing, but we converse in American Sign Language, always have closed captioning on the TV, use flashing lights or stomp our feet on the floor to get attention, write on papers to communicate with non-signers, etc.

We started signing to her right away when she was born. It was strange for us to sign to her as she would not look at us. She seldom paid attention to us. Imagine my surprise when at hardly 6 months old, she signed her first word, “no.” She waved her index finger at people, our dogs or objects and said “no!” From there, her sign language and spoken language flourished. She learned both at the same time.

She notices if closed captioning is not on the television and could not care less if the TV volume is off.

Coral loved to do facial expressions from early on. When she signs or says words, they often come with facial expressions. She also makes a lot of noises when she signs.

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Elizabeth’s daughter, Coral.

She will point to any noises and tell me what they are.

*points to the sky* “Airplane!”

*points to the busy street* “Cars, vroom!”

If she looks in the direction of the noise, I will ask her what was that noise and she will answer me.

She loves music. Every time her favorite show’s theme song comes on, she grabs me, drags me over to the TV and we start dancing to the song.

She knows to tap on my leg or shoulder to get my attention. She started doing that when she was a baby. Before she could walk, she crawled up to me and tapped on my leg. She knows to maintain eye contact while communicating with other people. However, she is a typical 2-year-old nowadays, so she sometimes ignores people on purpose.

Coral believes all people know how to sign. Boy, how I wish that could be true. At first, other kids would try to communicate with Coral, but they soon realized she wouldn’t answer back. They managed to interact through gestures while playing instead. It is remarkable how accepting young children are.

When she gets older, she will realize her parents cannot hear and talk with their voices. I hope when that day comes, she will be proud of her deaf parents and of her bilingual and bicultural life.

A version of this post first appeared on Mommy Gone Tropical.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Wish People Understood About Grieving a Child's Diagnosis

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I really grieved when my son, Junior, was first diagnosed as being profoundly deaf. I cried, I moped, I thought about how the life I envisioned when I set out to have children was suddenly so much different than the life I now had. I thought about his future, the challenges he was going to face, the bullies he would have to ward off and the stares he would have to endure.

What was worse than a few months of grieving, however, were the well-meaning people who made me feel guilty for grieving… made me feel like deafness just wasn’t “bad” enough to be upset about. One morning a few weeks after Junior was born and had already failed three hearing tests but hadn’t yet been diagnosed, I was struggling with my postpartum emotions. I went to my doctor and explained the added stresses I was facing on top of the normal hormones of a recent birth, hoping to hear some encouraging words, but do you know what she said to me?

“So what if he’s deaf. It’s not a big deal. Just learn a little sign language.”

It’s been three and a half years since she spoke those words to me, but they are still as fresh as the moment she opened her mouth. I didn’t have the wherewithal to protest at the moment, but those words burned. I didn’t need someone with typical, healthy children telling me that I wasn’t allowed to grieve because it was “no big deal.”

As I told friends about Junior’s recent diagnosis, I heard many of the same sentiments:

“It’s not like it’s cancer or anything bad.”

“At least he’s not blind too.”

“He’s just deaf. He’s fine!”

“It could be worse.”

Yes, I knew things could have been worse. There were plenty of people in more difficult situations than us. But, that didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to grieve. It didn’t mean that his deafness was “no big deal.” Especially when those comments came from people who had never been in the special needs world, had never experienced the pain of knowing their child was going to have added struggles in life.

I had to grieve before I could move on. I had to accept the reality before I could become his loudest cheerleader, biggest supporter and strongest advocate. I had to go through all those emotions, because it was a big deal. It was my child, and I was scared of an unknown future.

At just a few weeks old, we were making decisions for Junior that would affect him for the rest of his life. When I was supposed to be settling into the hectic, sleepless world of having a newborn and toddler, I was spending 20-plus hours a week at or traveling to doctors or therapy appointments. We were planning his life weeks, months and years down the road. It was a big deal.

The comments that were said to make me feel better only served to make me feel worse. Not only because I felt guilty for grieving, but also because I realized that compassion and empathy is rarely found in those who have not traveled the special needs path.

Looking back, the grieving process was a short but crucial part of our journey. Without it, I wouldn’t have forged lifelong bonds by reaching out to others who had walked this path, and I wouldn’t have realized that the valleys make the peaks that much more triumphant.

I realized that no matter what they’re going through, our beautiful children are a big deal.

Follow this journey on Save Money Live Joyfully.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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One Mom's Awesome Way of Showing Kids How Cool Their Hearing Aids Are

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Sarah Ivermee’s son, Freddie, was diagnosed with profound deafness and hearing loss when he was 3 months old. In 2014, he received cochlear implants, surgically-implanted hearing devices.

“Having a cochlear implant fitted for your child is no easy choice, and it isn’t right for everyone,” Ivermee, 29, told The Mighty. “But it has made Freddie’s world a much bigger place.” image

When a friend expressed to Ivermee that her daughter, who wears hearing aids, didn’t like them because they made her feel different from her friends, Ivermee offered some nail stickers from home to decorate the aids to see if it would make a difference.

It did.

“She loves them and loves the fact that she can have fancy designs and her friends don’t,” Ivermee said.

In 2014, Ivermee, who’s based in the U.K., started Lugs, a company that sells low cost, custom-made hearing device decorations.

“I thought there would be a lot of families struggling with children who don’t want to wear their [hearing devices], and I felt I had to help,” she told The Mighty.

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“Lugs” is another word for ear lobes/ears, according to Ivermee. She hopes her designs will encourage children to wear their hearing devices with confidence. Current styles include Angry Birds, Batman, butterflies, bows, Hello Kitty and more. Ivermee also plans to add a special occasions line.

The company is already attracting international attention — Ivermee was pleasantly surprised when her first five orders came from the United States.

“I get emails from professionals to thank me for what I’m doing; it just amazes me,” she told The Mighty. “People all over the world are wearing the little kits that I make in my living room; it’s unbelievable!”

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“Knowing children are not just happy to wear their hearing aids and cochlears but that they are proud to show them off makes it all worth while,” Ivermee told The Mighty. “We just hope we can help as many children and adults as we can and have fun and creative devices that they are proud of.”

For more information, you can visit Lugs’ website here.

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